Science fiction has long used the idea of a virtual world accessible through technology, but virtual reality is more than just a prospect for the future.
Kelley Gray, a communications major at SVSU, is the CEO of the Virtual Reality Research Group of Saginaw Valley State University (VR-ReG).
He first became interested in Virtual Reality when he started creating software about four years ago. He knew little about it at the time, but through free programs like Unreal Engine 4, he began to learn and develop a passion for VR.
Many of the training resources he uses are free, and he welcomes students of all majors to explore VR.
“We want to be a diverse, interdisciplinary group,” Gray said. “I would love to have more voice actors, 3D artists and modelers, history buffs for software content. Anyone who’s enthusiastic. When it comes to learning, I believe that passion trumps skill. This is pseudo-entrepreneurship. If you want to learn to develop, learn. If you want to be here, show up.”
Gray recounted that a student once approached him who wanted to be involved in VR-ReG, but she was not a computer science major, so she thought she couldn’t be any help. When Gray found out that she was a mechanical engineering major, he said that they could use somebody like her on their team. Any industry can implement VR, even if only to instruct.
One of VR-ReG’s goals is to start a virtual reality lab on campus. Currently, the group lacks the funding for new equipment and the space on campus, so advocates for VR-ReG bring their own equipment for all of their demos. A lab would be an important asset for VR-ReG’s research projects.
Kevin Kargula, the vice president of VR-ReG, said the goals of the research were to study memory retention. And VR-ReG has conducted over 500 demos on campus in the past year alone.
“Virtual reality is more interactive than other video games,” said first-year computer science major Austin Hooper, one of the students to experience VR at a demo on Wednesday, Nov. 2. “Other games, you can have a controller and walk around, but in virtual reality, you actually feel like you’re a part of the game.”
Not only is virtual reality available to the public, but it is also relatively affordable. The most expensive virtual reality headset is $800. PlayStation just released a $300 virtual reality headset to attach to a phone, and newer Samsung phones even have headsets for $900.
Some investors speculate that this up-and-coming industry will top $250 billion by 2018.